“In the Edwardian Style”
by Johanne Yakula
The Edwardian era is named after the reign of King Edward VII, and is technically between the years 1901 – 1910. Stylistically, however, the changes began in the early 1890’s and ended at the beginning of the WWI. Towards the end of the 19th century, people began to tire of the excess ornamentation, public display, and rigid rules of conduct both inside and outside the home that society demanded. What did not change so quickly were the Victorian ideals of home, and family. A home was, as it is today, a refuge from daily stress. It was the responsibility of the woman of the house to create this effect and the myriad of magazines and books on interior decoration that exploded on the market in the first decade of the 20th century were there to guide her.
Compared to the homes during the height of the Victorian era, those of the early 20th century were very different. Advances in science and technology influenced the Edwardian way of life significantly. Improvements in medicine, and hygiene cut infant mortality rates, and extended life expectancy. Home design changed to incorporate the new building technologies, heating by furnace, plumbing, and electricity, while still integrating the symbols of hearth and home. Louis Pasteur’s experiments in 1882 proved the connection between germs and contagious disease, and this also affected home design.ARCHITECTURE:
Architects tended to work primarily on the more imposing homes, and for those who could afford their services. Early examples in the province of Alberta attest to their penchant for recreating homes in the style of a medieval manor house, or Elizabethan / Gothic revival styles. Arts and Crafts bungalows, the modern style of the time also appealed to them. For the rest of the population, plan books were consulted by contractors and builders. “Four Square” houses, so named because the homes were essentially composed of four square rooms on two levels, were immensely popular. Today, many examples of this style still exist throughout the province.INTERIORS - Layout
During the Victorian era, rooms were accessible through a central hallway, and broken up according to specific uses : dining room, parlor, bedroom. Larger homes had more single use rooms such as dens, libraries, pool rooms, sewing rooms, or nurseries. The Edwardian era saw more of an open plan. Dining rooms opened into living rooms, and living rooms were accessed through open vestibules or entrances. Grills and arches created a feeling of separation yet kept the open feeling. Some homes had hidden pocket doors between the living room and dining room. The fact that these doors were rarely used, and cost more to incorporate into a home caused them to fall out of favor. Central heating negated the need to “close off “ rooms in order to retain warmth , however, fireplaces were still in evidence in most rooms – they were symbolic of the warmth of family values – hearth and home.
Those heritage homeowners who curse the size of their kitchens must understand that this room was never meant to accommodate more than those very few working in it. The efficient kitchen of the time was based on the model of a factory, and keeping it small meant the cook had to make fewer steps to get the work done. Electricity, for those who could afford it, was of additional benefit, even if this meant a bare 25 watt bulb hanging from a nine foot ceiling - very low light conditions by our standards today.
It became a status symbol to have indoor plumbing. Bathrooms, large rooms during the Victorian era, became smaller in response to the ideals of efficiency. However, the well appointed bathroom of the era was anything but spartan with its heated towel bars, mosaic floors, shower, hip bath, bathtub and toilet in a separate closed off area.
A new hybrid to emerge during the era was the sleeping porch. Good ventilation and fresh air was linked to good health, thus the population was encouraged to lower the heat, wear nightcaps and heavy bedclothes and open the windows at night. A sleeping porch was ideal.
There are several other developments in home design that came out of this Edwardian idea of efficiency in home design that we take for granted today: the closet by the front door, the broom closet in the kitchen, the linen closet in the upstairs hall, and the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.INTERIORS – Decoration
In the years before WW1, the revival of old European and American styles in furniture gave the public many choices . Factory production made this much more possible than the handcrafted system of a century earlier. Accurate reproductions were the most expensive. For the masses, “Golden Oak” furniture, so named because of its high gloss finish of pigmented shellac, offered only a bare suggestion of the styles of the past. Arts and Crafts oak furniture with its simple straight lines and waxed or oiled finish was also popular. Metal furniture especially in bedsteads became desirable. An 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue described metal beds as “clean, no chance for vermin”.
The understanding of the correlation between germs, diseases and dirt created an almost paranoiac response. Gone were the heavy layered window treatments of the Victorian era. These were replaced by simple lace panels, which allowed light and ventilation into the room. Gone was the wall to wall carpeting, replaced by full hardwood (in maple) or linoleum floors and area rugs that could be removed and cleaned by “beating” with a special tool. Gone was the wallpaper that covered every wall, including the ceiling of every room. Painted ceilings and walls could be cleaned. If wallpaper was still desired, it was varnished to keep it washable. Gone were the dark colors associated with the late Victorian era, and hello to our love affair with white. Dark woodwork was painted white. Bathrooms and kitchens were whitewashed on a regular basis, on the premise that dirt could be seen against white, therefor would always be cleaned. Spring cleaning became a ritual, of necessity because of the effect of gas lighting on the contents of the entire household. As electricity became more commonly available and affordable, this need was relaxed. However even today, in spite of our advanced cleaning technologies, a thorough spring cleaning is still considered a must.
This era in decorating gives the homeowner great scope in collecting accessories. Choose from late Victorian accessories, or Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styled pieces for a wonderful eclectic look that is truly the trademark of this transitional era in our decorating history.
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